The never-ending flow of fakes into the art world is unfortunate, but a fact of life in the industry. However, the mere presence of fakes is not the only issue at play; the market becomes yet more dangerous when one considers the number of art professionals taking advantage of buyers by calling themselves authentication. These unqualified “experts” often charge thousands of dollars for opinions that hold little to no value. Any knowledgeable appraiser or dealer understands that in most cases, there is one known expert for any particular deceased artist (of course, if the artist is still living, then the artist themselves may be contacted either directly or through a representative). For deceased artists, this expert can be a surviving relative or a noted scholar who has produced a catalogue raisonne or published books on the artist. It may also be a distinguished art institute, or the gallery which has handled the estate of the artist in question. The average collector may not be aware of this, and may reach out to a dealer, appraiser, gallery, or independent party representing themselves as authenticators, not realizing that their opinions are essentially worthless.
The old saying dictates that opinions “are a dime a dozen.” In the art market, collectors need to know that in most cases there is only one opinion that matters.
Art market shrugs off forgery case but finders of fakes still flourish
Art Basel, which closed on Sunday, effectively rounds off the art market’s annual program of fairs, sales and exhibitions. Coming after auctions in New York that clocked sales totals less than half of those a year earlier, art dealers have been cheered by apparently buoyant sales at the fair.
Dealers ticked off the highlights: a Sigmar Polke for €6.5m (£5.1m) at David Zwirner and Paul McCarthy’s Tomato Head (Green) (1994) sold by Hauser & Wirth for $4.75m (£3.3m) and a Mike Kelley Reconstructed History for $1.5m. The availability of such works suggested that dealers are getting more of the best work coming up for sale now that the auction houses have stepped back from offering seller’s guarantees.
But whether these headline sales, like the auctions, are a gloss that disguises other weaknesses, is not yet clear. The art market has been going through a testing period, not least its sensitivity to fluctuations in the global economy and the uncertain political outlook.
But the one story that might have been expected to affect art market confidence – the civil suit against the directors of the Knoedler & Company gallery in New York earlier this year, appears to have had scarcely had any impact.
Photograph: Dani Cardona/Reuters